Letters to Rev: No Till in TLO

Typical looks of a plant running out of food

Welcome to the heart of winter everyone—burr, it’s cold in them thar hills—today, while I’m all bundled up here in my pad along the southern coast of Oregon, I’m going tackle a single subject, one that I get asked about a lot; No-Till growing in containers, and more specifically No-Till growing using TLO style. TLO is probably the best style to use when attempting this, due to the large amount of longer term nutrients/minerals that have been breaking down in the soil and the high volume of microlife present in that soil.

I’m a huge fan of No-Till style growing outdoors in the ground, and in fact it’s the only way I grow anything outdoors in the ground or raised beds. In containers it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and the reason being is that it’s basically just like growing in semi-depleted or weak soil. You can’t have a plant pull out nutrients from a limited volume of soil and then expect those nutrients to “magically” regenerate when you put another plant into that same soil. It’s called: The Law of Returns. Using TLO you just add water and it’s a beautiful thing, but to pull off a good No-Till style you will need to re-amend the soil and add nutrients along the way; just adding water won’t work well. Let’s get into it…

No-Till Style Defined A-La Rev

The whole No-Till philosophy is one I am a big fan of myself, simply stated you just use the same container for the next plant, just transplanting the new plant into that larger used container. In containers this has some rules, and you cannot just use good water on them on the second or third run. In the photo above, you can see what a typical plant looks like running out of food, and this is what you don’t want to see if running No-Till style. Now, outdoors this style rocks big—check it out…

Outdoors in the ground, when your plants’ roots grow into the ground, they use a LOT of their energy tunneling through the soil layers. Next season in the springtime, without disturbing the top layer of soil at all, you just put next years plant in the same spot. Not only do the roots tend to use the existing “tunnels” made by the previous plant’s roots, which saves the plants a ton of energy they can put towards things like yields especially—and—the roots of plants store a ton of nutrients themselves, and they are decomposed for the most part by the time the next season rolls around; so, tons of great food from the decomposed roots of the year before. Ya with me so far? Let’s rock on.

Another huge perk of this style, is that it doesn’t disturb the delicate webworks of fungi, and outdoors these fungal networks can be huge and go deep. Super beneficial to the plants if you are growing all naturally/organics style. Now in a container, because fungi hyphae (their “tentacles”) grow very rapidly, they can completely occupy a 5-gallon pot of soil within 3 days max. So, the fungi perk is really only highly beneficial in the ground, and your fungi re-establish very rapidly in containers anyway.

How I Would Implement No-Till in Containers

My favorite all-purpose dry fertilizer ever by Espoma

I would absolutely use top dressing here and a new layer of mulch. Personally, I would use granular dried chicken guano (Espoma makes a great product here) and crab or bone meal as my top dressing for the new plant in the old pot. Keep these amendments away from the base of the stem. Using method one below, I would always want to use a little kelp/seaweed extract every other watering, in uber tiny amounts, literally like a coke-spoon’s worth per gallon of water, maximum.

Crab and bone meal by Down to Earth brand

I would highly recommend using the self-watering style growing containers for No-Till applications. The lower runoff tray is a great place to toss in some all-purpose dry fertilizer, and some kelp meal. So, every time you water, it brews a mellow “tea” in the bottom before she soaks the water back up.

Method One: Using a Liquid Arsenal of Nutrients

Big Bloom and Liquid Fish

If your schedule is tight and you don’t have a lot of time for gardening, then you could use a combo of Fox Farm’s Big Bloom (NOT Tiger Bloom) and Liquid Fish Fertilizer by Alaska brand, with a 5-1-1 NPK value, every other watering; I would use small ratios of each of these, use the Big Bloom very sparingly. For vegetative stage just use mostly liquid fish and a little Big Bloom, likewise during flower your mixing ratios would be heavier on the Big Bloom side of things.

I would never add more than 2 teaspoons of Big Bloom, and 1 teaspoon of liquid fish fertilizer. I would always use chlorine/chloramine free, higher PPM water (around 60-90 PPM) that is rich in dissolved minerals like Ca and Mg. A little dialing in is required per your environment, just always error on the side of too little is my advice here.

Warning—you do not want to use any liquids with a high P value, like above 1, and you do not want to just use just any flowering liquid fertilizer, Big Bloom is very special as liquid fertilizers go.

Method Two: The TLO Way

TLO 2nd Edition Baybee

I recycle all my soil TLO style, but, unlike No-Till I re-amend my soil and fast compost it before reusing it. This allows me to just add good water and have no worries. If you are interested in this style of growing, you can grab my book True Living Organics 2nd Edition by The Rev here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1937866092/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_tP1tCb47CHCZ0

My stackable home worm farm

If you have a home worm farm, then your job growing No-Till style will be incredibly simple, you can top dress with the castings and you can use very small amounts of the leachate worm juice that these worm farms collect at their base, frozen, stored and dissolved in water just prior to watering.

My frozen mini cubes of worm leachate

The small doses of worm leachate works great (in super small dosages) and you can use it every time you water if you want. I use super mini silicone ice cube trays to freeze mine in, and each mini ice cube is about 1/8th of a teaspoon of worm leachate. And since you will have all those awesome worm castings, after you have used the same container a few times, you can just take all that soil, mix it 50/50 with your worm castings, add a 20% cut of small nugget sized Perlite, and BOOM! You got yourself some new super-soil my friend.

Teas are another way you can go here to keep your plants happy along the way during the second or third time using the same container and soil for a new plant. Just don’t make them too strong, and you can use them like every time you water if your ratios are dialed in small enough. My rule of thumb here would be using a tea every other time I watered, and I would never use a tea that was higher than 100 PPM. Like the worm juice above, you could, make a highly concentrated tea, like even as high as 300 PPM, make ice cubes (normal smaller sized) so you could make “instant teas” for your plants. 1 or 2 cubes per gallon makes a nice tea at a good PPM value.

TLO-style grown bud

I hope you got something good from this article; like I said, I like just adding good water growing in containers indoors, and making my soil supernatural, but, to each their own, I always say. If your schedule is slammed a lot, I can totally see having a hard time doing a lot of growing related work, and liquids are a simple answer, that works pretty well. The worm farm is literally like a magic growing device, and it really does it all and is a huge (HUGE) boon for any all natural/organic grower, whatever the specifics of your style may be. Until next time humans, Rev out 😊